2 Weeks Together:
7 Tips for a Peaceful Christmas Break with Your Kids
DECEMBER 20, 2022
Let’s be honest, as parents, we have a major love-hate relationship with holiday breaks.
The idea of slowing down and having quality time together around the holidays is such a welcome thought. But somewhere around the 73rd hour of bickering and whining, that line from Bing Crosby’s song is too real: “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.”
After a decade and a half of parenting our rambunctious boys, I would like to share these 7 hard won tips for thriving during those fa-la-la-la-long days together. :) My husband and I are not psychologists or parenting experts and will never claim to be. But these have worked well for our family, and it is my hope you can take, tweak, and use them as you see fit.
#1 Build a Strong Foundation: Structure + Communication
Fair warning, this one is a verbose tip. However, I put it first, because we have found it to be so crucial.
Take a minute and imagine life from your child’s perspective. These young minds wake up and have no idea what will happen to them today. They spend most of their days living reactively to what the adults have planned for them. Little Susy is joyfully drawing a picture and is already thinking about how she will go outside in a minute. Then, Mom delivers the curveball: “Grab the vacuum and a rag, we are cleaning the house.” Talk about a crusher. She didn’t even see it coming. To no one's surprise, there are wails of protest and stormy attitudes. As a mom, I been there so many times.
The intelligence and emotional needs of children are very easy to underestimate. Just like their parents, they wake up with hopes and expectations for their day. Adults can forget to take this into account, especially in this whirlwind called the holidays. My boys often equate winter break with the hope of lying in front of their toys or a screen for two weeks straight. Ya, that's not happening.
We need to bring their expectations into alignment with ours. Otherwise it's jarring to both of us as we spend our holidays butting heads.
These next two weeks lack the structure of a school week; that much is clear. Like a strong building, we need a strong foundation for our time together. We need to be proactive instead of reactive. My husband and I approach this with a micro and macro plan of action.
In the micro plan, we lay out a moderately flexible schedule for the day to day. Your children are already used to following a schedule at school. "I do a math worksheet at 9:00, I go to lunch at 11:00, I have recess at 1:00..." Now the fact there is no schedule, can be anxiety inducing for these little guys. So gather your family and lay out a daily schedule that works for you.
Here is an example of our typical holiday break schedule:
Kids wake up by 8:00
Breakfast and get dressed by 9:00
Help with chores for 30-45 minutes
Free Time (play/read/draw/create) until lunch
Clean up Lunch
Check in with Parents about any more chores
Free Time until 3:00
Clean up Snack
Screen Time until Dinner
Dinner Clean Up
Bedtime Routine begins (At a pre-declared and consistent time)
Visual aides are going to help you out so much when explaining time to your kids. We have big white board on the wall where we can write the “Holiday Schedule.” A piece of paper slapped on the fridge works just as well. Non-readers can understand simple pictures, if you walk them through it.
Alright, let's talk about our macro plan. Those special activities and outings need communicated just as well.
Bring on your visual aide number two: the physical calendar. Maybe you're different, but I don't particularly enjoy being asked every single day by three different children if it's time for us to decorate Christmas cookies yet. Or go see Christmas lights yet. Or go visit their friends yet. So, writing it on the calendar helps them see it plain and clear. Take it a step further and give them a marker to put an X on each day as they count down. You're including them, giving them some control, and above all giving them knowledge. That takes the pressure of you to be the gatekeeper of the information surrounding the family schedule.
Similarly, if there’s something less desirable (a day of deep cleaning, signing 75 Christmas cards, or running errands for the entire afternoon), put it on the calendar! If you can't get it on the calendar, give your young ones as much heads up as you can. Kids can wrap their emotions around events that are "the worst" so much easier if they get time to transition.
On a final note, all of your daily and event scheduling will mean nothing if you're not consistent at least 80ish% of the time. The goal is 100%, but we need to be realistic. We all know things happen and plans change. It's that a good concept for your kids to learn that. But, remember you're building a foundation for your days together. Make your adjustments as needed, but keep communicating and following through. Ultimately, your kids have to see you'll support and enforce what you say you will, or it won't work. Being consistent will give them security, and security will lead to calmer days.
#2 The Library is your best friend.
Where is the place everyone in your house can find something that interests them? The library! In our house we are many things. Among us, we have an animal lover, real estate investor, crafter, history lover, scientist, gamer, engineer, cartoonist, and interior designer. The library offers something for each of us.
On the first day of break, we go to the library. Sometimes I have to lead the hunt, or enlist the help of the librarian. Regardless, we leave with enough books to keep our minds busy learning more about our favorite subjects. I love watching our kids curl up with a book to expand their thinking. It’s good for them, and great for those free time hours. A reading brain leads to a calm, happy mood.
To find your local public library, click below.
#3 Setting aside time to help.
Chores. Just the word can make your tired. Not just doing them, but the battles needed to have your kids do them. Won't it just be easier to do everything yourself these next two weeks? I wish this was true. You may save yourself some pain in conflict, but sure as anything you'll find yourself with worse problem--entitlement. It only take a few days to see your kids go from decent, empathetic little chaps to complaining, demanding hooligans.
However, if you still include chore time, you'll find the opposite to be the case. You may have noticed that chores show up several times in our example schedule. That's because after many years experimenting with this concept, we have found the following to be true:
1. A day that starts with hard work, leads to greater enjoyment of later downtime.
2. Chores help children understand they are part of a bigger community beyond themselves. This starts with helping their own family with these small acts.
3. You are teaching them life skills that one day very soon they will have to do for themselves.
4. Your children are proud of themselves, and you get to celebrate with them!
5. Your child gains empathy in what their parents have done for them all these years. They sometimes will even express gratitude when YOU chip in and help THEM.
So, experiment for yourself. Try a couple days with and a couple days without. See if you can spot a difference in attitude.
#4 Screen Time: To Be or Not to Be?
Oh screens. They can get a really bad rap. I myself have wanted to toss the TV out the door on more than one occasion. But, as these years have gone on, I have found screens can be an actual blessing. When explaining screen use to our kids, we say that screens are the equivalent of dessert. If you eat dessert all the time, what will happen? Naturally, your physical and mental health will suffer. But if you eat dessert in balance, it can be one of life’s sheer delights--a joy and something you are so thankful for!
We have found, if we give our kids screens right at the start of the day, they become very irritable toward one another and us, especially when they are asked to get off. It probably has something to do with the dopamine high and then crash.
However, in our house we say, “No screens before X time (usually very late afternoon). Additionally, you have to have all your chores and responsibilities done." Now the kids see screens are a part of a balance. They are not just something they get free reign to. They are the dessert to their day.
Without this declaration of a time and conditions for screen time, my boys ask me every hour if they could turn on a game or show. They live their day on edge, waiting for me to say, "Yes."
But knowing this boundary is in place, they will, without prompting, go pursue something else they love in their free time. They'll pick up a book, build a Lego starship, or invent a board game. Or sometimes they go use their time to aggravate their brother because it's funny. But it's a lot more manageable to redirect bored children than dopamine crashing children.
Most adults, teens, and kids today are very into their virtual lives. It’s a community all its own. We don't want to ban them from relating to their peers in this way. We just want them to see it is a social and entertainment tool, not a thing to consume your day.
We will use that tool to race each other through the Mushroom Kingdom, laugh together at the Grinch (“Dinner with me…I can’t cancel that again.”), and show our kids hilarious TikToks we find. It's a very achievable balance.
#5 Expectation Management for Magical Moments
Okay, we’ve all been there. You set aside time in your busy schedule to go do something "Christmasy" with the fam. You’re so excited and feeling like Super Mom or Super Dad.
And then your youngest turns into Eeyore, and eldest won’t stop flicking your middle child who has now consequently called his brother a dirty name. Stress levels are up all around. And then you ask yourself, “Why do we try to do anything nice?”
Kids sure can bring out the worst in us when our hope was to create magical memories. Sometimes, there is just no avoiding these kinds of interactions. They are just a part of being flawed humans raising more flawed humans.
I will, however, encourage you to ask yourself a question I have had to ask myself on many occasions: “Have my expectations been to high?” Maybe no. But, maybe yes. And if yes, "How can I adjust my expectations?" Isn't it remarkable how much of parenting is the idea of constantly adjusting? The quicker we learn this, the better.
"So, why ARE my children fighting nonstop?" It may be too much to ask by putting a five year old and a seven year old in the back of a car for a couple of hours, and then making them sit next to each other on the Polar Express with no snack since breakfast. It's quite possible they need space from each other and are past "hangry." Instead of focusing on how they're ruining their own magical time, try and see what they need. It may be discipline and laying down of the rules again, or it may just mean they need you to sit between them on the railway trip while they devour a granola bar.
We have learned to plan these activities with as much thought put into our kid’s limitations as we would the logistics of the activity. A four-year-old can sometimes only handle one (maybe two if you’re lucky) fun-filled things before the tears of overstimulation and exhaustion begin. Maybe your kiddo who's looking for negative attention needs to hold your hand or help you with tasks you are capable of doing alone. It's important to be as realistic as you can in what they can handle.
So what do you do when it seems all hope of fun is lost? You've yelled, they've cried. Its a mess. In all things, my husband and I have tried to teach our kids that NOTHING is past redemption—no outing, no wrong doing, nothing. When these conflicts happen, address the wrongdoer, yes, but invite apologies, and maybe give one yourself if you lost your cool. Forgive one another and calm down together.
Then say, “Alright, that was rough. Can we start again?” Watch the relief in your kids faces. They already knew they messed up. To have their parent offer them a clean slate is life giving. You may just even walk away from your renewed time together saying, “That was fun. I can't wait to do it again.”
#6 Take the photo
This tip is short and sweet. Basically, this is just your nudge to take the photo, perfect moment or not. You will smile at the chaos later. The memories are so worth documenting.
Look how little my baby once was. So sweet!
#7 Pausing for Shoulder Time.
Your to do list can be crippling during this time. Your kids can feel that, too. They can see you’re stressed and may even act out so they can get interaction and attention from you. You wonder how you can even give them all the time they need but you don't seem to have.
I read a book once that described the importance of "Shoulder Time" in relationships. The book was meant for couples but it absolutley applies to our relationship with our kids. In a nutshell, Shoulder Time is the intentional time you spend standing/sitting shoulder to shoulder with your little buddy as you join them in something they love to do. It's being physically present and taking an interest.
Our boys love warriors, gaming, and Pokemon cards. I do not. Not even a little bit. But did you know I know what "clearing a LZ and reporting to Alpha" means? I have also know how to build an entire glass house in Minecraft and that Mewtwo is the strongest Pokemon. Shoulder Time has taught me these things. We want to show our children that they are so important to us. We will value what they value.
Shoulder Time doesn't have to be long. Especially now, with so much demand for our time, it's good to know reading a book together or sitting and eating a snack with them fills their cup. They say, "Kids spell LOVE as T-I-M-E." Children who rest securely in their parent's love will be happier children, which makes for happier parents, and happier families spending this holiday break together.
-Communicate the structure of your break days
-Go get lots of books
-Chore time is worth it
-Screens are good in balance
-Those holiday expectations need to be realistic
-Capture the memories
-Time spent in their world is never wasted
May these tips lead to pleasant and peaceful days together this holiday break.